edited by Sue Courtney
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Max Schubert - Winemaker
By Huon Hooke
With the imminent release of the 1994 Grange in early June, it seems timely to toast the genius who first created this masterpiece and now one of the most sought after wines in the world, Max Schubert - Winemaker.
Huon Hooke, a well known Australian wine writer and Pierce Brosnan look-alike, had the honour of writing this book acknowledging the experience as "a biographer's dream" with Max Schubert making the job easy "with his ready cooperation and sharp memory".
Born in 1915 and brought up in the Barossa, Max went to work at Penfolds on leaving school. Looking after the horses, fetching mail, running messages, cleaning offices and helping out with the pumps in the cellar during vintage seems a humble start but being cooperative made him be noticed. A move to the laboratory a couple of years later paved the way for his future career. Max's big break came when he was noticed by Leslie Penfold-Hyland and soon after Max moved to the Magill Winery in Adelaide. The story unfolds with Max's rise within the company including the time spent serving in the Second World War.
Max eventually became manager of Magill, chief winemaker, South Australian state manager and was in charge of the vineyards at Griffith, the Riverland, the Hunter Valley, the Barossa, McLaren Vale and Magill.
It was the European trip in 1950 that was Max's revelation. While the production of sherry was the focus of the trip, seeing red wine being fermented in new American oak hogsheads in Spain gave him an idea. This was strengthened during his visit to Bordeaux where he saw new small barrels made from French oak being used for fermentation of red wine. This part of the book is augmented with excerpts of Max's own writing of his overseas experience.
Returning home the first Grange was made combining the Spanish and French techniques. The fruit was Shiraz, the oak American and the Penfold-Hylands hated it. Max did not follow instructions to cease making the wine - he continued to experiment in secret with the cooperation of his war buddy, Jeffrey Penfold-Hyland, and his loyal staff. When company policies changed in the late 1950's and the wine was unveiled, the wine was accepted slowly. It was a different from what the Australian drinkers of that period were used to. But now it has become one of the most well-known success stories in the history of wine. The 1955, the first Grange 'acknowledged' by Penfolds at that time, went on to win countless awards - at least 51 gold medals and 12 trophies.
The 214 page book is one book that anyone, who has enjoyed and mused about Grange, should read. As well as being the story about the wine, it is a fascinating insight into the life of the man who dared to disobey his fearful employers and continue to make the wine in secret. Supplemented with photographs, statistics and detailed tasting notes of the 1951 to 1990 Grange vintages, it is extremely fascinating and very hard to put down once you start.
I have no idea where one could buy the book. I got mine from Penfolds. It used to be available via the Penfolds web site, but the reference to it has gone. It does not exist on Amazon either. I suggest if you are interested e-mail Penfolds.
The publisher is listed inside the book cover as Kerr Publishing Pty Ltd, 32 Anderson Street, Alexandria, New South Wales, 2015. Ph 0061-2-310-4627.
As an alternative, visit the Penfolds web site to read about Grange. There's a profile of Max Schubert with fabulous photo of Max. There's "The Story of Grange" written by Max himself as delivered to a symposium in 1979 (the top two images are the video clips - beware these takes 'ages' to download). There's even more detailed tasting notes from several reviewers plus other bits and pieces. Definitely worth the visit.
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